Have you ever wondered how Colorado's legislature works? Or perhaps you don't care, because you're convinced that all politicians are corrupt.
In either case, former state senator Linda Newell, a Democrat who recently finished an eight-year term representing Littleton at the State Capitol, hopes that a video documentary series she's producing will educate and change perceptions about the people and mechanics behind Colorado's state and local governments.
Newell debuted the first installment of her series, a documentary titled The Last Bill: A Senator's Story, on March 18 at the Alamo Drafthouse in Littleton. The roughly thirty-minute film follows Newell and Republican Senator Kevin Lundberg as they collaborate and parry around bills they sponsored during 2016's regular legislative session — Newell's last before she termed out.
Here's the trailer for the film:
Newell says that the goal of the documentary — and the series as a whole — is to show how government works from the inside and to humanize politicians like herself and Lundberg who make decisions that have far greater consequences than many people realize.
"What people don't know is that the majority of the laws that affect them on a day-to-day basis happen at the state and local levels," says Newell. "But I also know that before this [last election] — with Trump and Clinton and Sanders — only 5 percent of the nation paid attention to politics. And only 5 percent of that 5 percent paid attention to local or state politics."
Additionally, Newell adds, approval ratings of elected officials at all levels of government are at historic lows.
“People are skeptical about politicians,” she says. “And I have gotten perceptions that we're all hateful people and are in it for ourselves or for money or for our egos."
The Last Bill, which was made in collaboration with the Colorado Film School and Indie Denver Media Productions, aims to change those perceptions by showing what life as a legislator was really like for Newell; in the film, the former senator and her two daughters describe their family life and the sacrifices Newell made as a single mom, including working for about $2 to $3 an hour for eight years (she did the math) in the legislature.
Now, Newell will be working with the same production team at Indie Denver to capture the inner workings and personalities behind other parts of Colorado's state and local governments.
This week, the governor's office agreed to participate in Newell's film about the role the governor plays in state politics. Other ideas for future installments of the series include exploring life on the campaign trail as candidates vie for local seats, explaining how lobbyists fit into Colorado's political machinery, and putting together a how-to guide for constituents interested in having effective dialogues with their elected representatives.
Another plan for the series is to have the films available for educational purposes. Newell says that she's already working with high school and primary school teachers to create a curriculum around The Last Bill so that it can foster in-depth conversations in the classroom. She also hopes to distribute the film through libraries and Rocky Mountain PBS.
“The Last Bill was my story, but what we really want to incorporate are all different types of races, ethnicity, sexual orientations, faiths, economic classes.... Those are the stories that we are really looking forward to telling," says Newell.
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She credits the first film's young director, Aaron Koehler, and editor Matt Baxter for adding a refreshing younger perspective that helps the film appeal to inter-generational audiences. As outsiders, the filmmakers also kept things honest, giving viewers the feeling that they're getting a candid peek into the inner workings of the political system.
"I'm not trying to tell superficial, nice little stories," says Newell. "I want to show the good and the bad, including the dichotomy, the hypocrisy, and the masks behind the scenes of what politicians are really going through."
To find out more about Newell's film series, visit her website, lindanewell.org